b Papa Dog's Blog: Eat to the Beat

Papa Dog's Blog

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Eat to the Beat

My putting-away-the-dishes music yesterday was Eat to the Beat, von Blondie. This is pretty typical. When I put on music meant as background accompaniment as opposed to something to be listened to for its own sake, I always pick stuff that I’ve heard so many times that I almost don’t hear it anymore when it’s playing. Baby Dog is going to grow up with a very firm grasp of non-threatening popular music from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Quickly doing the age-equivalent calculation that’s become routine since we became parents, I said to Mama Dog, “This will be like early Sinatra to her. Maybe Benny Goodman.”

Looking at the cover in its Lilliputian version on the CD box reminded me of the sneering pudgy face of a young school chum – let’s call him Norm* – ca. 1980. “Her face looks fat on the new one,” he said. I felt a chivalrous impulse to defend the honour of Debbie Harry. “She just has high cheekbones,” I said, and “It’s a weird angle.” I ought to have added, “Besides, who are you to talk, you blubber-faced git?” but didn’t, not wanting to let a discussion of merchandise packaging turn into a fistfight with a kid who had fifty pounds on me.

Remembering that got me to thinking about how much has changed in the business of commodifying and marketing pop stars since 1980. Back then, the picture on the album cover – and the ones on the gatefolds and/or innersleeves – were the primary visual identification of a band. The single image on the front of the album served to fix the brand identity for the duration of the album’s shelf life. Sure, you’d see the pop stars elsewhere – on American Bandstand perhaps, or Saturday Night Live. On the cover of the Rolling Stone or, if it was that kind of pop star, Tiger Beat. Occasionally they’d take a doomed stab at acting, turning in a bad performance perhaps as a nameless cowboy in a Sam Peckinpah movie or as anybody in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. At any rate, the perception of the pop star was almost entirely through still images. There was no MTV, not 800 channels of subcategorised infotainment. We didn’t even have Entertainment Tonight yet. That picture on the album, that’s what you got – reproduced everywhere fine music is sold. In 1980, Debbie Harry was probably the most photographed woman on the planet, but they were always stills. I remember always being disappointed whenever I saw her in motion. She looked unaccustomed to movement, unprepared to present this added dimension. She tended to stay still behind the microphone and looked awkward when she stepped out to do a dance move. Like such a clubfooted git as I should talk.

Nowadays? Pop stars are also dancer. It’s required. It’s also required that they be available to the public in some form on some channel at any given time of the night or day. I’ve been listening to music a lot more lately, but for the most part I’ve been pretty much out of it for a decade. I’m kind of the equivalent of my dad in 1980. Well, okay, maybe not that out of it, but pretty out of it. But still, I know what Jessica Simpson looks like. I have not tried to know what Jessica Simpson looks like. I don’t even know how I knew her name in the first place. She was just suddenly there as a commodity, like a new wonder drug for irritable bowel syndrome. I’ve never heard one of her records, nor seen one of her videos, nor seen her flouting her dimness on her reality sitcom, yet such is the state of cultural osmosis that I’m incapable of not knowing about these things. Cross-promotion is insidiously thorough. She comes and finds you. “Ah-ha!” she says. “You’re watching the Apprentice! Don’t move, I’ll go there!”

Considered that way, the gap between then and now, 1980 to 2005, already seems to wide too have been bridged by my lifetime. I think I would have a difficult time conveying to Baby Dog just how different things were 25 years before her birth. I have difficulty imagining how different they will be 25 years after.
* Because that was his name.


Blogger Twizzle said...

Has anyone met a Norm who WASN'T fat?

12:20 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

I agree, it is hard to fathom how different our lives will be in 2030.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Brownstein said...

I should hope that by then they have hovercraft wheelchairs and health-inducing cigarettes.

5:50 PM  

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